You almost have to wonder if videotaped child-whacker Madelyne Toogood had an agent before she got herself into trouble. Within moments of her arrest, there she was on Larry King, weeping on cue. By one count she was on three other shows the same day.
Not long ago, the idea that a child-pounder would get to plead her case and seek sympathy on national television would have been dismissed as a muscatel daydream. Or perhaps something worse -- a True Sign of national decline. Whatever the larger picture, there's no denying that nowadays hosts compete fiercely for the honor of interviewing petty criminals, gutter slime, sleazeballs, professional sluts, and other low-lifes whose rank cachet seems to have a narcotic effect.
While striving to be non-judgmental, it is worth pointing out that this phenomenon has not only grimed up television, but had a negative effect on those accused of low-life activities. Not too long ago, the accused hid when a camera drew near. The current custom is to powder the nose and demand prime time.
It is in fact something of a surprise when a low-life newsmaker does not show up on Larry's show, or a show like his. Back over pedestrians at a swank club, get some face time. Ditto for marrying your horse, staying stoned for six years, or for simply gobbling down wanker-enhancement pills. Profess yourself a cannibal and you might get a full hour.
Larry: So tell me, what does a human taste like?
Larry: Well, there you have it folks. We taste like fish. I guess that's not surprising. We are believed to have come from the sea. So it all makes sense. Closing thoughts?
Guest: Thanks for having me on!
Larry: And thank you for your unique insights. Please come back.
That some people -- make that, lots of people -- will go before millions of strangers and tell the most intimate details of their lives is something that will never seem quite right to many of us. This is the result of growing up in a time when restraint was highly valued and widely practiced; when the desire to avoid shame had a major effect on behavior. Shame has taken many whacks but it kept the grime rate down. It also convinced many of us of such notions as the innate dignity of man. We now know better. With the slightest prompting, many humans gleefully become swine.
That is the deepest lesson television teaches us, and it is no minor teaching. It would be nice, of course, if restraint could regain some of its previous cachet. That is highly unlikely. We seem doomed to ever-ghastlier excesses, with no end in sight. Evolution isn't everything it's cracked up to be, which is something else worth keeping in mind.
IT IS ALSO TRUE, HOWEVER, THAT you can learn truly interesting things from these shows. Mrs. Toogood, for instance, is reported to hail from a group called the Irish Travelers. It is safe to say that many Americans had never heard of the Irish Travelers before Mrs. Toogood went upside her child's head. The name suggests a musical ensemble, perhaps of the type encountered at Irish theme bars singing "Whiskey in the Jar" in the finest of dinner theater accents. We now know the Travelers go about much like gypsies, doing odd jobs here and there and basically spending their lives on the road. By one count, there are around 50,000 Irish Travelers in the United States.
Richard Roeper, who writes for the Chicago Sun Times, has reported that some Travelers are crooks and cons. In one instance, "a brother-sister team of Irish Travelers created a rape-and-robbery scenario in a Walt Disney World hotel." Sis had sex with one of her paramours, then checked into a Disney resort and had her brother tape her to a bed and beat her with a stick. She somehow freed herself and called the cops, complaining she had been assaulted by a man wearing a Dracula costume. She thereafter filed suit against Disney. They might have gotten away with it had they accepted Disney's offer to settle for $200,000. They wanted a million, however, and kept things boiling. Eventually, new evidence surfaced and they ended up in jail.
Travelers, Mr. Roeper further reports, have cheated some old folks out of their hard earned cash; the victims tended to be blind, deaf, or mentally disabled. We now learn that Johnny Toogood, Madelyne's husband, swindled some old folks in Philadelphia and perhaps others in Montana, while two Virginia bail bondsmen say he is wanted in the Old Dominion for forgery. Mr. Toogood is said to have at least one other name: John Lark. One cannot help but crack a wee smile, though only for a second, lest a video camera be operating nearby.
All this is of course small potatoes. If a few swindles and beatings are the worst that can be dredged up about a group with 50,000 members, then it is clear the Irish Travelers are a pretty upstanding bunch. Indeed, it is safe to assume that a backlash will soon develop against the anti-Traveler stereotype. Mrs. Toogood will return to Larry's show, play the victim role with perfection, and perhaps inspire the host to one of his patented goofy pronouncements:
Larry: Madelyne, is it true the Irish Travelers are one of the Lost Tribes of Israel?
Who, truly, would be surprised?